There’s a priest I know and his church has an Adoration Chapel that’s open twenty-four hours a day. The chapel has only a few visitors at certain hours of the day and sometimes the visitors that do come to the chapel are not there to pray. So it’s this priest’s job to occasionally check on the chapel throughout the day. One night, he came upon a well-dressed man reclined in a pew, looking very comfortable, and this man was smoking a cigar. He even brought his tray to collect the ashes. The priest’s first impulse was to yell at the man for smoking in the chapel. But, he held his tongue, and instead asked the man, “What are you doing here?” The smoker replied, “I’m talking to Jesus.” The priest was surprised by the man’s answer, he hadn’t expected this reply. The man was obviously a man of faith who believed that Jesus Christ was present within the Eucharist. The priest left him alone to his prayer but did warn him to be careful with the cigar. I don’t recommend smoking here at St. Joseph’s. The only smoke we allow comes from candles and the thurible. (“The smoke of the incense went up before God and with it the prayers of God’s people.”) Now that smoker knew where to find Jesus. That man looked upon Jesus and Jesus looked upon him.
In today’s Gospel Jesus looks upon another man but that man doesn’t seem to know he’s looking upon the Son of God. That man calls Jesus a good teacher and in response, Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.” Jesus isn’t denying the fact that he is good. But what he’s doing, is inviting the man to reflect more deeply on why he calls him good. Is Jesus good because he’s a wise teacher and powerful miracle worker? Or is it because he treats everyone with kindness? Or is there a more profound basis for Jesus’ goodness? Does the man recognize that ultimately, God alone is good, and that what he perceives in Jesus is not merely unusual human qualities but the infinite goodness that belongs to God alone?
It’s not surprising that the man’s youth and wealth are not enough to make him happy. Many people know this. The man acknowledges, after all, that he has yet to attain eternal life, which he asks Jesus to help him find. For this young man the law, morality, a good life … were not enough. They were a good start, which is why Jesus mentions them first and looks lovingly on the man’s attainment of them. But, Jesus does not say, “Well done, you have kept the law. Congratulations! It’s enough that you’re a good person. Go in peace.” No. Jesus insists that the man is still lacking “he’s lacking one thing.” He lacks Jesus.
This young man is maybe the most moral man in all the gospels, but he misses out on what his heart was made for. In the end, the man goes away sad because he’s unable to part with his possessions. He was attached to things. He was a good man but not a happy one. He had many good things, but he didn’t possess Jesus.
We read in the Gospel that Jesus looked at this man with love, “Looking at him he loved him.” But that man doesn’t seem to have noticed this gaze of divine love, he’s too preoccupied with his own thoughts. If he had noticed this loving gaze his heart would have been captivated and it would have moved him to surrender all his earthly attachments. Why does Jesus tell him to sell all that he owns? Perhaps because the man is bound by his possessions and attached to the independence they made possible. They were the earthly treasure that was keeping him from freely receiving the heavenly treasure that was standing in front of him. Jesus wants to set the man free to follow the true longing of his heart without any reservation. Jesus is asking this man to become as dependent on God’s providence like children who are dependent upon their parents, because it’s to the children that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.
A modern day example of one who was dependent upon God’s providence is Dorothy Day. In 1933 she was one of the co-founders of the Catholic Worker Movement. The movement’s aim is to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ. One of its guiding principles is to show hospitality towards those on the margin of society. Dorothy Day, who died in 1980, lived a life of voluntary poverty and service to the poor. Her trust in God was so complete that she would say, “God sends you what you need when you need it.”
We studied Dorothy Day’s spirituality at the Seminary and it’s no surprise that the Eucharist had first place in her spiritual life. She attended daily Mass and had the habit of meditating afterwards where she would often say, “I shall rest happy in the presence of Christ on the altar.” Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist and praying before Jesus in the Eucharist gave Dorothy Day the strength and courage to serve Jesus in the poor that surrounded her. Unlike the rich young man Dorothy Day recognized Jesus’ loving gaze and that divine love captured her heart. It so captured her heart that she surrendered all her earthly attachments. And for that she is on the path to becoming a recognized Saint in the Church.
Not all of us are called to this type of life that Dorothy Day led but our Lord is asking all of us to not be attached to earthly things, to not put things ahead of him. And so we work at detachment from things, we work at making our Lord number one. In the old days Friday was a day of abstaining from Meat. At Vatican II, except for during Lent, Catholics received a dispensation; we no longer had to give up meat on Friday. But the understanding was that in place of giving up meat; we would do something else instead; doing some form of penance, fasting, work of charity, or work of piety. These acts were to express our love and our respect and our honor for the Lord. If we aren’t already, let us make Friday a special day for our Lord. These Friday practices can help us grow in our detachment of things. Is there something in our lives we just can’t seem to live without? Then give it up on Friday, create an empty space to be filled by Jesus. Let us always possess Jesus.
Christ there in the tabernacle, in his humanity and divinity, is like the sun. We bathe ourselves in this sunlight which warms and heals us (Dorothy Day).
May we be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley